A colleague told me about her decision to leave a company because of the serious problems “the office” faced during her time there. The very like-able and affable CEO wouldn’t face conflict. His conflict management skills were almost non-existent.
The CEO avoided navigating tough situations and didn’t like settling disagreements when the inevitable competing perspectives came to an impasse.
This is not an uncommon situation. Handling conflict is a social/emotional skill many leaders don’t take the time to learn to do well or do well consistently.
What were the consequences of this leader’s avoidance?
The company experienced turf wars, competing factions that could not collaborate, poor customer service, alienated talent, high staff turnover, bullying, and people simply putting in time.
The most insidious outcome was the lack of trust people had for the CEO. People couldn’t trust this CEO to put important matters above his/her own comfort. Trust is a foundational leadership asset. Without trust you simply can’t be as effective as you need to be.
If you ignore dissonance, you do so at your own peril.
How do you handle conflict? Would you like to be better at it?
One very big way is demonstrate that you engage different view points with very positive outcomes.
Trust is a Conflict Management Skill Must Have
Here are some conditions that must be present for trust to exist.
- Create a safe space to air all points of view-no cheap shots now or later and no retaliation.
- Maintain rules of engagement: integrity, respect, everyone is heard, important to mine alternative viewpoints for worthwhile nuggets.
- Listen to all points of view…draw out introverts, dissenters.
- Arbitrate or mediate depending on what is needed.
- Communicate ground rules clearly.
- Demonstrate that you value differing perspectives that are well thought out.
- Decide and communicate the decision promptly to everyone involved.
Ask yourself, how can I support positive rules of engagement?
- Be a neutral referee not afraid to call fouls and give penalties for cheap shots.
- All parties must experience respect.
- Everyone must be heard and acknowledged.
- No secrets-all affected stakeholders must be present and participate.
- Make it clear…this is a conversation not a contest.
Ask good questions designed to move the conversation forward.
- What would a good outcome look like?
- What should the parameters for a good outcome be?
- Where can this be a bridge instead of a barrier?
- How can we each help?
- Is this a need to have or a nice to have?
- What is the worst case scenario? If that happens, then what?
- Is there a both/and situation we haven’t considered instead of looking at this as an either/or?
Besides mitigating all the negative stuff my colleague experienced, there are benefits for airing dissent constructively.
Leaders who actively engage dissonance in a positive fashion can mine alternative points of view for “what if” scenarios that improve customer service and discover nuggets of truth that help create plan B’s for handling unintended consequences. The conversations can also unearth ideas worthy of consideration for innovation strategies.
The biggest organizational payoff is when you consistently lead this way you are modeling collaborative ideation for others.
The best payoff for you is– you demonstrate why you are a leader to be trusted.